Pacheco Falls Overnight

After a soaking wet winter, it’s time to chase wildflowers and waterfalls! Pacheco Falls is a 10 mile hike or bike ride from the Hunting Hollow entrance to Henry Coe State Park. After months of heavy rains, the falls tumble into a pool deep enough for an afternoon dip.

The rains also mean March is the perfect time see the seasonal blooms of California wildflowers. The serpentine soils at Henry Coe are fantastic reservoirs for native blooms when the hillsides are otherwise green with invasive grasses. This type of poor fertility soil originates from the contact zone between saltwater and the magma oozing from ocean crust. Biologists argue about whether plants endemic to serpentine are either extra-adapted to wacky soils, or extra-sucky at competing on normal soils. Whatever the story is (and it likely varies depending on species), you’ll find the big patches of serpentine on Steer Ridge entirely carpeted in purple, white, and yellow blooms this March.

Speaking of serpentine, I had the rattlesnake scare of my life this trip. Peter, who was descending ahead of me, stopped and pointed in the direction of a trail marker. I came flying down the fire road, shifted my weight to make the turn when out of the grass I heard the high buzzing rattle of the snake. It was coiled right at the trailhead! My heart leapt out of my chest and thudded the trail.

“Peter,” I said. “We’re going to have to work on arm signals. No more pointing at things I shouldn’t run into.”

Henry Coe is also a great place to encounter non-poisonous critters. A garter snake slithered into the grass and turtles slid into a pond as we rode past. The bats came out at dusk at Pacheco Camp and the frogs chorused until dawn.

I even met a very rare breed, the unipacker. This unusual creature one-wheeled into camp as I was packing up. Corbin the mountain unicyclist sported handmade uni-panniers, home-welded parts, and so much stoke as he prepared to tackle the Arizona Trail this spring.

Keep the stoke alive and check out my route description after the photos.

Route: The Henry Coe trail map shows fire roads, singletrack trails, and the location of Pacheco Falls. I can especially recommend the Jim Donnelly Trail, a fast and fun singletrack descent from Steer Ridge back to the Hunting Hollow parking lot.

Transit: The Hunting Hollow entrance to Henry Coe State Park is 11 miles uphill from Gilroy, which is served by Caltrain and Amtrak bus. Check your time schedules carefully, as the Caltrain runs to Gilroy only on weekdays and not on weekends. Amtrak buses run more frequently seven days a week. Carpooling is also an option.

Camping: Self-serve backcountry camping passes are available at the Hunting Hollow entrance for $5/person. Pacheco Camp near Pacheco Falls has picnic tables, running water, and most surprising of all, a shower hooked up to the hose. In spite of the amenities, definitely filter your water and pack out your trash from this backcountry camp.

Season: March through May for the best blooms and cool springtime weather.

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